I know I’ve already written a post about being an “I can” person but I saw this quote and I kept coming back to it. In my experience that means that it’s important and I should pay attention. What strikes me most about this quote is that this fits my past and my present rather exactly. When I was younger I was always being told “you can’t do that”. Adults, kids, peers, all of them at one point said that to me or made me feel as if I couldn’t. Why? What was it about me as a child that made people say that to me? Did I look like I couldn’t? Did I have it stamped on my forehead? What? And as I grew older I started to realize something. I would prove them all wrong.
When you are young you don’t pay too much attention to the financial constraints your family lives under, or at least I didn’t. We always had food on the table, at least until I was in high school. We had clothes, toys, and we really didn’t want for much to be honest. Compared to later in our lives and to others who are born without those luxuries, we were privileged. My mother was a stay-home-mom until I was in 6th or 7th grade, and my step-dad worked. Mom was always home when I got home from school and life was pretty good for the most part. My sister, Sharon, even went to private school for a time because we could afford it. Until we moved to the country I didn’t think about whether we were lower class or middle class. Looking back at that particular point in life we were probably upper lower class or maybe lower middle class. I say that because we lived in apartments until I was in second grade and then, instead of moving into a “normal” house (i.e., brick or clapboard) we moved into a mobile home in a trailer park. I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about. For those that don’t here’s a picture. It’s pretty similar to what I grew up in although, ours was this horrible olive green.
At 8 and 9 years old, what you live in doesn’t matter because it’s home. Ours was a three bedroom with 2 bathrooms and a huge kitchen and living/formal dining room, though we didn’t use it as anything but an extra large living room. By the time I was in 4th grade, my parents moved this mobile home and us out to the country, and I began to learn about class systems. I think I may have begun understanding this earlier because I had two step-aunts who were married and lived in really nice homes, the kind of homes I thought it would be nice to live in. My cousins were always dressed well and had nice jewelry and lots of books and things that my sisters and I didn’t have. But, I really never thought about why that was the case until junior high school.
I have this one memory of going to one of my step-cousin’s piano recitals. (Have I mentioned how much I love music? I know I should have been a musician.) I remember sitting and watching the kids go up on stage and sitting at the piano and banging on the keys and making music, not always good but some weren’t bad. I played along, unknowingly, on my lap with my fingers, making them play invisible keys. The aunt whose daughter was learning the piano, looked over at me, nudged my mother, and pointed at me. That’s when I realized what I had been doing. That’s when I realized that, more than anything, I wanted to learn to play the piano and be up on stage as well. After that, every time I was at this aunt’s house I would go to her piano if allowed and try to play it. I couldn’t read music but I would either beg my cousin (2 years younger than me) Katy to teach me some or I would just press keys. Katy did teach me to play Silent Night and a basic scale. But I never learned to play the piano. I was told I couldn’t. Why not? Because I couldn’t. I hate answers like that.
That became a theme throughout the rest of my childhood once we moved to the country. I wanted to join Girl Scouts once, but I couldn’t because there wasn’t a chapter for my age group in our area. To this day I still think that wasn’t true because I went to school with girls my own age who were in Girl Scouts. I couldn’t join Brownies because I was too old. I couldn’t play baseball because I was a girl, and I couldn’t hit the boy who was bullying me because I was supposed to be a lady and he was a lot bigger than me. Eventually, when you hear the words “you can’t” you either acquiesce and accept it, or you learn to say “watch me”. I didn’t learn to say “watch me” for a long time. What I did do was start telling myself “you can’t”. I didn’t join choir in junior high school because I believed my family couldn’t afford it and I convinced myself that by my sacrificing my desires that my sisters would be able to follow their dreams. And that right there is where I learned about true sacrifice. I gave up a lot so that my sisters could do what they wanted, or so I believed. I don’t know whether or not giving up what I wanted to do helped them. I’d like to believe that the reason my sister Sharon was able to join band was because I didn’t join choir, and so the funds I would have had to use for choir (clothes, fees, etc.) were reserved for her. I never asked for singing lessons or piano lessons even though I wanted them so badly. But my baby sister Sylvia was able to be in Brownies and join track, and Sharon ended up in FFA (Future Farmers of America) and whatever else she liked doing. And I was happy with that. I wanted to be in drama and be in the school musicals but I wanted my sisters to be able to do the things they wanted to, and the only way for that to happen was to not ask for myself. At one point I became aware that even if I had, the decision would have been made, not by my mom and stepdad but by someone else, and I knew the answer would be “she can’t”. Once I was aware of who really controlled the strings in my family, I began to think, “watch me”. I was determined to prove this woman wrong about me and show her “I can”.
At 16 I got a job and started helping my mom support our family. “I can.” I started giving my baby sister lunch money when she wanted it. “I can.” I paid for my entire senior year myself, except for $40 which was a graduation gift from my mom’s parents to finish paying off my class ring. Not one single penny came from anyone else that year, and I managed to pay for my own lunches as well. “I can.” And then I graduated, entered college, opened my own bank account, and learned to drive a car. “I can.” All of my life I’d heard people tell me or imply to me that “you can’t.” And the best feeling in the world has been proving to myself that “I did.”My mother was the same way until she divorced my stepdad, and then she, too, began to say “watch me.” She owns her own home now and the land it’s on. All of her children and grandchildren know that when she says “watch me” you’d better get out of her way.
In a lot of ways I think it takes more emotional strength to give in occasionally and to give in gracefully, but there comes a point where capitulating has to end. You have to stand up and turn around and yell “watch me,” and then go prove that “you can”. I don’t hear “you can’t” very often, and when I do it’s usually coming from myself. I’ve had to turn off those negative thoughts that have come from years of certain people telling me what I can and cannot do. It wasn’t even very hard once I learned the secret. All you have to do is begin believing that you are good enough, that you are strong enough, and that you can do anything. Tell yourself “watch me” and fill your thoughts with positive sayings. That’s what I’ve discovered recently. Looking for topics to write about and making them positive has me thinking those very positive thoughts that I’m reading and writing about. All you have to do, is just begin. And that’s the hard part, but you can do it. I believe in you.